The Episcopal Diocese
of New York

1047 Amsterdam Avenue
New York, NY 10025
Tel: (212) 316-7400

Resources for People Who Are Blind

Information for Parishes and Facilities Welcoming People Who are Blind and Visually Impaired

The Pastoral Missioner for people with sensory disabilities is available to answer any questions and consult on issues related to vision loss. Click here.

The main source of vocational and educational services available to blind and visually impaired people of the Diocese is the New York State Commission for the Blind (NYSCB, 1-866-871-3000, https://ocfs.ny.gov/main/cb/). It provides a large number of no-fee services related to employment and developing and enhancing independence for legally blind state residents. NYSCB, through its website, offers a vast amount of relevant information, including data about local independent living centers, rehabilitation services, and non-profit and charitable agencies and organizations throughout New York.

Welcoming people who are blind and visually impaired

Individuals in the blind and visually impaired communities are extremely heterogeneous, and no quick guide can completely address the many factors which make for an accessible church, school, or chaplaincy. Often, the answer to your question maybe  readily available with a simple and direct question to the individual with vision loss. Other times, professionals in the fields of vision rehabilitation are a good resource. Below are some basic points to be aware of when considering people with vision loss.

How do people who are blind and visually impaired access written text, to read things such as church bulletins, music, and Scripture?

There are many ways for people with vision loss to access text. Visually impaired people who utilize their residual vision may use:

  • large print books and publications
  • magnification with optical equipment such as glasses and magnifiers
  • electronic magnification, desktop or portable, known as CCTVs or electronic magnifiers

Magnification devices are widely available.  Creating large print materials can usually be accomplished with a modern copy machine or word processing software.

People who are blind or have severely restricted vision may use:

  • speech output, either recorded or produced from text data on computers, phones, and tablets
  • braille on paper or from refreshable braille displays attached to computers, phones, and tablets
  • Some individuals may use multiple pathways for reading, depending on the task and the environment.

Many people who are blind own equipment that can give them access to reading materials if the text is provided in a file to upload. There are services available through agencies that can create braille versions of documents, either free or for a service fee. Large print, audio, and braille Bibles are available through libraries and several national and international organizations.

How do people who have vision loss travel?

People who live with vision loss move safely in their environs and travel in numerous ways. Here are some of the major techniques:

  • using residual vision and low vision techniques and strategies
  • using a white mobility cane
  • using a dog guide
  • using a human guide
  • using paratransit as an alternative to regular fixed-route (buses and trains) public transport

A few pointers can be helpful. Often indoors, a person who is blind may request to use a ‘human guide’ to navigate a space; people who act as guides walk slightly ahead of the visually impaired person, who grasps the back of the guide’s arm. Never interact with a dog guide, unless you have the owners permission; dog guides are usually working and others should not attempt to pet or distract a dog in any manner. Keep in mind that an individual using a cane will often need to touch objects and people, in order to know that they are there.

Other aspects of creating a welcoming environment

Consider lighting. Whether it is the general lighting in worship area, or task lighting to make reading easier, illumination is often a concern for people with vision loss.

Consider the aspects of rituals and ceremonies when people are expected to move about and walk around. The Eucharist or the Peace are two examples. How can you prepare accommodations for people with vision loss? Ask questions and be open to discussion.

Offer to familiarize your worship or meeting space to a person with vision loss before services or gatherings.

The Pastoral Missioner for Deaf and Disabilities Ministry

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